PHOTO: Sean Alfano
The footbridge between Randall's and Ward's islands.

Name: Randall's and Ward's Islands
Population: Approximately 300 people at the homeless shelter and psychiatric center.
Directions: Take the footbridge on East 103rd Street in Manhattan. Or, by car or bus, take the Triborough Bridge from either East Harlem or Astoria, Queens
Size: 0.75 sq. mi. (1.94 sq. km.)
Borough: Manhattan
Origin of current names: Jonathan Randal, and Jasper and Bartholomew Ward owned the islands in the 18th century.
Previous names: Tenkenas (to c. 1790), Randall's and Ward's (c. 1790-present)
Current use: Recreational and entertainment space, Manhattan Psychiatric Center, Charles H. Gay Homeless Shelter, Fire Department Academy and the Deptartment of Environmental Protection's water treatment facility.

An Oasis of Green Space
By Sean Alfano

ecreation and rehabilitation have
been themes of Randall's and Ward's islands' history for more than 100 years. Situated between the Harlem and East rivers, the island's more than 500 acres are composed of baseball diamonds and soccer fields, as well as a state psychiatric hospital and a homeless shelter.

In 1855, the City of New York acquired three separate land masses between Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx: Randall's Island, named after its previous owner Jonathan Randal; Ward's Island, named after Jasper and Bartholomew Ward and a marsh called Sunken Meadows. Over the years, the debris from construction projects filled in the space between the three islands.

The most notable project that generated deposits was the building, from October 1929 until July 1936, of the Triborough Bridge, between Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. Although the land masses are now one island, the northern part is still known as Randall's Island, while the southern section is called Ward's. The Hell Gate Bridge, which traverses the island, allows trains to get from Queens to the South Bronx. When it opened in 1916, it was the longest steel arch bridge in the world.

ebris was not all that was dumped. The island became a repository for people considered undesirable to mainstream society. The city first used the island as a potter's field - a public burial ground for dead people without family or friends to claim them. Later, the city built a shelter for impoverished immigrants and an insane asylum on the island.

In the 1930s, Robert Moses, New York City's infamous parks commissioner, wanted to turn both islands into a giant recreational area. But Moses was not persuasive enough, and instead, New York State built the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on the area previously occupied by the insane asylum. In addition to the hospital, other institutional buildings include the New York City Fire Academy, a homeless men's shelter, a water treatment plant and a maintenance garage for the Parks Department's vehicles and equipment. <Click here to see a timeline of Randall's and Ward's history>

The island still has plenty of green space, though. It is a popular destination on weekend afternoons for picnics and concerts. A new entertainment and sports complex is set to open in the spring of 2004 to replace Downing Stadium, which was demolished in 2000.

The island is one of New Yorks's most accessible islands. Pedestrians can access it from the East 103rd Street footbridge in Manhattan, the Triborough Bridge entrance on East 125th Street in Manhattan and Astoria Boulevard in Queens.


fficially listed as a New York City park, Mill Rock Island is roughly 8.5 acres of vacant land located south of Randall's and Ward's islands where the East and Harlem rivers converge. The island is accessible only by boat. Mill Rock is most notable for its use as an American fort during the War of 1812. The Army Corps of Engineers used to make and test explosives there.

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